Saturday, December 08, 2007

Reality-based reality

The top two stories in the Boston Globe yesterday were about religious faith and job suitability.

The first was presidential candidate Mitt Romney's speech on whether his Mormon faith should disqualify him from being president of the United States. What Romney had to say shows how far we have moved toward an American theocracy since John Kennedy gave his Catholic speech 47 years ago. Kennedy made a ringing endorsement of the separation of church and state. Romney mentioned Mormonism only once, but suggested -- absurdly -- that religious faith is a necessary prerequisite for freedom. His message, in effect: I accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God and my personal Savior; therefore I am qualified to be the president of this Christian nation.

I am happy and proud to live in a society that offers religious freedom to all. If Mr. Romney believes the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith on a hillside in New Your and led him to a new testament inscribed on plates of gold, that's fine by me. If Mr. Huckabee believes the universe is 6000 years old and the Rapture (for Christians only) is just around the corner, he's welcome to it. Should Romney's, or Huckabee's, or Obama's, or Clinton's, or any other candidate's religious beliefs influence my personal vote? You bet.

When I vote for the most powerful person in a multicultural world, I will be looking for evidence-based qualities of mind. All of the present candidates are professedly religious. It's hard to imagine anyone getting elected to the highest office in America today who does not claim to be a Christian, so intolerant have the pious become. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, if queried closely on their religious beliefs, would be snubbed by many American voters, and a self-confessed atheist or agnostic wouldn't make it out of the starting gate. Still, what I'm looking for is someone of inclusive, humane spirit, of any faith or none, who will base public policy on sound empirical principles rather than the faith-based tenets of his or her personal religion.

The second story involves a science post-doc formerly at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, who claims he was fired because he doesn't believe in evolution. Religious discrimination? Scientific dogmatism? More on this topic Monday.